Tommy Hughes (OHL Images)
In the end the Saskatoon Blades that their critics said weren't deserving of hosting the 2013 Memorial Cup gave fuel to those same critics by bowing out of the Memorial Cup after a 6-1 loss to Tommy Hughes and the London Knights in the tiebreaker game. Pick a word or cliche and it will fit as the curse of back to back games kept it's streak intact with the Blades becoming the 3rd team to play a back to back and lose it.
The Blades bow out of the Memorial Cup with a 1-3 as London advances to Friday's semifinal against the Portland Winterhawks. This game was over in the first 3 minutes when Ranger prospect Josh Nicholls (2013 UFA) was forced to pull down London's Bo Hovrat who was on his way with a shorthanded breakaway. A penalty shot was called for and Horvat cashed it in for a 1-0 London lead.
It might have been the only goal of the period but Saskatoon really looked like they were not into the game and they just didn't challenge London's defense. If there was any indication that was true then look no further than a 4 minute power play the Blades had early in the 2nd period as they failed to generate any real scoring chances which might have turned the game around.
It also didn't help that the other Ranger's prospect on the Blades Shane McColgan (2011 5th) was sitting in the penalty box for most of the first 2 minutes of the power play. But that was how the game went for Saskatoon as every time a door of opportunity would open for the Blades, it was their own play that let them down.
London would score 2 more goals in the 2nd period to make it 3-0 after 40 minutes and the Blades waved the white flag by giving up 3 goals in a span of 1:06 to start the 3rd period. It was over and that was it for Saskatoon who ended their run at the Cup with a whimper.
Ranger prospect defenseman Tommy Hughes (2013 UFA) was scoreless but a +1 and no penalties.
Saskatoon just didn't play with any emotion or drive as to be fair they had held their own against all 3 CHL league champions during the round robin portion of the Cup. Their coach Lorne Molleken admitted as much in the post game and it showed. London yes they scored 6 goals against Saskatoon but now it is their turn for the 2nd time to play in a back to back against a Portland Winterhawk team that had a day off.
Portland will bring more speed and skill than Saskatoon did but Portland needs to take a lesson from the Blades and "turn the other cheek" against the Knights who baited Saskatoon into taking dumb penalties. The Winterhawks can make the London tactic backfire by playing with discipline. Let London be the ones who wind up in the penalty box by not falling for the London tactics of trying to "poke the bear."
That game will be Friday night starting at 7 PM EDT.
And the curtain drops
Josh Nicholls and Shane McColgan saw their WHL careers come to an end with the loss to London. Nicholls was a respectable 4-2-6 in the 4 games he played in. Nicholls will now move on to begin his Ranger career at the rookie/prospect camp in early July. For his WHL career the 6'2 200lb winger was 138-175-313 in 332 games with the Blades.
Barring injuries, Nicholls should start the season with the CT Whale but he is going to need to add some much need muscle to his upper body if he is going to last. Nicholls is the "late bloomer" who had a 47 goal season this year and wasn't afraid to get his hands dirty in the corners. Some improved foot speed would also be nice but the Rangers have done well helping their prospects improve their skating.
Shane McColgan technically can return to the WHL for an "overage" year but first the question everyone keeps asking me is will the Rangers sign McColgan before the June 1st deadline? I really at this point have to say that I don't see it happening because (a) they already have 4 guys who are 5'9 playing for the CT Whale/Hartford Wolfpack (man I am glad they brought this name back) and (b) at last count the Rangers don't have any contracts open to offer McColgan.
There is more as I like McColgan but in the things I have learned over the years from the Rangers is that the one area that you have to show the most in is improvement from draft day to where you are today. McColgan in 4 WHL seasons put up 66, 64, 66, and 69 points and I believe that is where he was hurting his hopes of a Ranger contract. The Rangers have 1 week to show otherwise as McColgan, Samuel Noreau (who deserves an AHL deal) and Peter Ceresnak (who returned back to Slovakia in April) at the only Ranger draft picks from the 2011 draft class not signed.